Written and recorded immediately following 2021's Even if it Takes a Lifetime, Chicago's Anatomy of Habit's newest album is sonically similar, however it does not sound like the second half of a double album. Instead, Black Openings is a stand-alone work that features the same sense of consistency but overall sees the band further refining and expanding their sound, and in this case returning to the bleakness that pervaded their earlier works so brilliantly.
Listening to Black Openings, I realized that the closest band similar to Anatomy of Habit was the short-lived God, helmed by Kevin Martin. Both are "supergroups" (in the sense that they featured members from various bands from different, yet complimentary genres) and both balanced intensity and complexity perfectly. The most significant distinction here is that while both bands draw heavily from various shades of rock, avant garde, electronic, and noise music, AoH forego the jazz component and delve more into electronic music. The driving force behind AoH's sound is defacto band leader and vocalist Mark Solotroff (Bloodyminded, Intrinsic Action, and a multitude of other projects): his commanding voice is always identifiable and makes for a commanding presence in all three of the album's songs.
No time is wasted in the epic 18-minute-long opener "Black Openings," where Anatomy of Habit—a band that's no stranger to epic length material—locks into the album's distinctive sound. Alex Latus's layered guitar and heavy bass from multi-instrumentalist Sam Wagster form the foundation as Skyler Rowe's drums and Isidro Reyes's percussion creeps in. Once all the elements are established, it is AoH at their most post-punk sounding, with clear influences of Killing Joke and Joy Division to their sound. Latus' guitars get heavier as Solotroff's distinctive vocals arrive. Over the lengthy duration the band eventually disperses into a more spacious electronic soundscape before coming back together even more intensely, with especially aggressive vocals, leading to an appropriately dramatic climax.
The two shorter (relatively speaking) songs that make up the second half of the album are more polarized in mood, with "Formal Consequences" representing the band's lighter sound, and "Breathing Through Bones" the heavier. Even though "Formal Consequences" opens with martial dirge elements, Rowe's vibraphone hints in a different direction, with the layers of synth and acoustic guitar solidifying this shift. Even Solotroff's vocals are more traditionally sung, and while things eventually transition to a heavy metal chug combined with junk percussion, the bleakness is held a bit more at bay here. Not so much on "Breathing Through Bones," where dour guitar and clanking metal are met with slow, commanding vocals. The piece builds dramatically throughout, with layered synths and the band at their heaviest before ending with a pummeling conclusion.
While I thought Even if it Takes a Lifetime hinted at lighter, less oppressive moods by the end of the record, that would not seem to be the case on Black Openings. Instead, the band is back to their relentless intensity, but one with enough beauty and nuance within the darkness to give it an excellent sense of depth. It is one of those records that is viscerally intense, but with a dazzling array of detail within its intensely dark shadows.